By LARRY VAUGHT
CHARLESTON, S.C. — Perhaps the biggest problem in this scenic, historic city is just trying to decide what to do.
Charleston has so many options for dining, sightseeing, shopping or just about anything else you might want to do. My wife and I tried to plan Friday’s agenda the best we could — and it worked out well. It was a long day, but certainly an enjoyable day.
We started with a tour with Old South Carriage Company, which was founded in 1983 with three horses and one carriage and now has 33 horses and 15 carriages that operate daily. Our driver estimated there would be about 50 tours given on this particular day — and the number rises in the summer months.
Each carriage can accommodate up to 16 passengers, but there are also a variety of tours to choose from. Our one-hour narrated carriage tour covered nearly three and 30 blocks of historic Charleston, according to our driver. I can’t imagine a better way to see “Holy City” — a name given to Charleston because it has so many churches — and learn about the historical areas and attractions than this.
Our driver gave us a lot of other tidbits such as Charleston hosts about 100 festivals per year and 80 involve food and/or wine. He also explained the French influence on Charleston, including how the French taught the residents to eat shrimp and oysters.
Each Old South employee wears a red sash to make them distinctive from other carriage companies in downtown Charleston.
Locals recommended that we follow the historic carriage tour with 90-minute SpiritLine Harbor Cruise. It was a good recommendation.
We did not know that SpiritLine was the only harbor tour company in Charleston that had a licensed city tour guided on board. Our guide was a retired history teacher who had lived in Charleston for over 40 years. He knew anything you might want to know — and more — about Charleston’s history.
We got to see landmarks such as Fort Sumter, where the first battle of the Civil War was; USS Yorktown, a decommissioned aircraft carrier; Ravenel Bridge, North America’s longest cable-stayed bridge span; Pinckney Castle; and much, much more. We even got a close look at several dolphins near Fort Sumter, a national park that is classified as a “stabilized ruin.”
It was a great and relaxing way to get a look at the beauty and history that make Charleston special.
Before we ate, we made a trip through the Charleston City Market. You could find just about anything from “sweet grass baskets” to gourmet nuts and candies. I especially loved the pralines and had to sample more than one. Vendors seemed to all have a unique ware to entice you to reach into your wallet.
We ate at Jestine’s Kitchen on historical Meeting Street. It is named for Jestine Matthews. Her mother was a Native American and her father was the son of a freed slave. She came to Charleston in the early 1900’s and found work as a housekeeper. Jestine’s owner Dana Berlin is the daughter of the Ellison family that Jestine worked for before her death in 1997 at age 112.
The traditional meals all looked wonderful. The fried chicken was fabulous according to patrons at the table next to us. Another regular recommended the pimento cheese.
Our waitress suggested I try the shrimp and sausage gumbo over white rice. I did and it was unbelievable and had plenty of shrimp. My wife loved the green beans.
This is a popular place and we were lucky to get there before it was full. Lines to get in are the norm. One University of Charleston student there with her parents said long lines were not unusual but no one ever minded because the food was so good and prices more than reasonable.
We finished our day with a short trip to the South Carolina aquarium, which even had a bald eagle. A lot of school groups were also there combining education with fun.
My favorite part was getting to hold a Bearded Dragon, a lizard native to Australia. An aquarium worker had the Beard Dragon out answering questions and explaining what adept climbers they are. I became a believer when the lizard wasted no time trying to climb up my arm.
We finished our day with a drive through the Charleston Battery, a historic park with antebellum style home, and then Rainbow Row and its colorful historic houses.